The Burning of Lisheen Castle and John J Fanning of Lisdonowley, Co Tipperary Ireland 1921

John Fanning, grandson of Patrick Fanning and Margaret Cantwell of Lisdonowley, Co Tipperary,Ireland, was an IRA member and falsely rumored to be involved with the burning Lisheen Castle in 1921. The story goes that he fled to America but was followed and murdered there. He was not one of the three IRA men who torched the castle. He died somewhere in America in 1931.

Patrick Fanning (c1809-22 Sept 1895) the son of William Fanning and Hanera Cormack came to live at Lisdonowley and his descendants still live there. He married Margaret Cantwell and had 14 children.

Lisheen Castle
The restored Lisheen Castle

One of their sons James was the father of John Fanning born 1900 who was a member of the IRA and some have him being involved with the burning down of Lisheen Castle in 1921. After this he is said to have fled to America where he was followed and murdered. He died in 1931 so I am not so sure about him being murdered.

I have found John’s record of travel to America on the Ellis Island site. He emigrated, age 29, to New York on “The Carmania” from Queenstown (Cobh) on 28 April 1929. His mother’s name is given as next of kin and he was to stay with his aunt Mrs Margaret O’Donnell at 194 Court St Brooklyn New York. Margaret O’Donnell is most likely his mother Anne’s sister, Margaret Hogan.

In the recently released military transcripts John Fanning is listed as a captain of “D” Company in Moyne. These statements make fascinating reading as they give an incredibly vivid picture of what life was like around Thurles in 1920-21 during the War of Independence.

John Fanning of Lisdonowley
John Fanning of Lisdonowley 1900-1931
John Fanning IRA company Moyne
John Fanning IRA company Moyne

His descendants who I talked with recently cast some doubt on his involvement with the burning of this castle.

Lisheen Castle Burned

“At 11.20 on June 29 Lisheen Castle (Tipperary), the property of Mr. John F. O’Meara, corn merchant, Thurles, was maliciously destroyed by fire by a party of unknown civilians.”- Dublin Castle report.

Freemans Journal July 4 1921.

“Lisheen Castle was occupied at the time only by the caretaker, Patrick Sweeney. A number of men ordered him out, a drawing room window was smashed and petrol was thrown in. The deed was done by local IRA activists, whose names were known. Other buildings burned down around that time in Tipperary according to the Star report were Loran House, near Templemore, Derrycastle Bungalow overlooking Lough Derg, and vacant RIC barracks of Holycross, Shevry and Roskean.

John F. O’Meara was awarded £15,000 compensation the following October. The judge hearing the claim stated that he was satisfied that the O’Mearas intended to use it as their residence, and that it was an effective dwelling house at the time it was burned.”

(Taken from the Lisheen Castle website which has a excellent history of the castle and some wonderful photos in their gallery. The castle is also available to rent!)

I was reading a transcript of a talk given by Turtle Bunbury on Big House Families and Lisheen Castle was mentioned. This is the excerpt:

“Approximately 200 big houses were destroyed during the Irish Civil War, as well as 80 or so that went up in flames during the War of Independence. Some were destroyed because of hatred of the family. Some were taken out as possible enemy strongholds – Woodstock, in Co. Kilkenny, was one. Another was Lisheen in Co. Tipperary – I recently heard the tale of one of the Lloyds of Lisheen who had been a young girl when the house was burned and she came back to Ireland as an old woman and was introduced to an elderly man. He was one of the three lads that had set the castle ablaze. He apologized for burning the house and maintained it was not personal against the Lloyd family who were held in high regard by locals. “It was war. We were fighting for our country.” They did not want the British to have access to the castle which gave a commanding view of the area.”

I have been sent this extract which actually names those involved in the torching of the castle and John Fanning is not named. So that myth has been laid to rest. John Fanning of Lisdonowley was not one of the three.

Lisheen Castle was burned towards midnight on 29th June 1921, just days before the Treaty was signed in 11th July 1921! Lisheen Castle was burned to prevent it being used for military purposes by the English. On that night, Mr. Patrick Sweeney, the caretaker living at Lisheen Castle, was ordered out of the Castle by three armed men, Mr. William Conroy of Ballyerk, Mr. John Ely of Moyneard, and Mr. Denis Maher of Moyne, who torched the Castle. No furniture or possessions were in the Castle at the time of the burning. Newly weds Camilla (nee O’Brien) and John O’Meara did not restore it after the burning, although they were well compensated (£15,900) and so it remained a picturesque ruin”

Source: “Moyne-Templetouhy. A Life of Its Own. The Story of a Tipperary Parish”. Hayes, W.J., 2001, Vol II p 452 published by Moyne-Templetouhy History Group, Thurles and Tipperary Star 2nd July 1921 and 8th October 1921.

In the Bureau of Military History witness statements, Sean Scott, a commandant in the IRA, states that he received news that the British forces were about to occupy Lisheen Castle and so he ordered it burned. Scott was in the second Battalion Tipperary, the Second Tipperary Brigade. John Fanning was in the same battalion and was the captain for Moyne where the castle is situated.

The photo below is not of the second Brigade but the third but I included it for interests sake. I would like to get a photo of the second brigade if it exists and someone has a copy.

Sean Hogan's Second Flying Column Third Brigade Tipperary
Sean Hogan’s Second Flying Column The Third Brigade IRA Tipperary about 1920

John Fanning died in Brooklyn Kings New York on 28 Feb 1931 and was buried in St Johns Cemetery Queens New York, Section 25/Row N/Grave 74.Cemetery on 2 March. He was living at 255 Clinton St. Brooklyn New York. He was working as a clerk and was not married.

Grave of John Fanning from Lisdonowly in St John Cemetery Brooklyn USA. The above photo and the next were kindly taken by JP Rayder for Find A Grave.

St Johns Cemetery Middle Village New York
St Johns Cemetery Middle Village New York


In memorium Irish Press 28 Feb 1933


Irish Press 28 Feb 1935